February 22, 2023

Formulating Solutions: P. Scott Bening

Ever heard of Tide Pods? My next guest shares his journey from chemist to entrepreneur and teaches readers the key lessons he’s learned throughout his career, as the primary designer of the global strategies and relationships that enabled this story of successful innovation.

Welcome back to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty, and my next guest is Scott Bening, who is here to talk with me about his newest book, Formulating Solutions: Lessons from an Unexpected Entrepreneurial Journey. Let’s get into it.

Hello my author friends and welcome back to Author Hour. I’m super excited because I have my good friend here, Scott Bening, who just launched an amazing book called Formulating Solutions. Scott, thanks for coming on the show, I’m really excited for this.

P. Scott Bening: I’m excited, too. This is going to be a fun chat.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah man, before we get into the book and all the amazing wisdom and knowledge that you got to share and of course, all your stories, I really want to get to our audience a little bit about you and who you are. Perhaps, where you grew up, personal background a little bit, and maybe someone or something that inspired you the most growing up?

The Beginning

P. Scott Bening: Well, I grew up in Buffalo, New York. I was born actually in the city of Buffalo and then when I was in fifth grade, I think it was, we moved to the suburbs. We left after our neighborhood started turning the wrong direction and I think my mom, being an educator, wanted us to have a better place to be going to school. So we went to a town called Williamsville, New York.

Which is pretty famous because, I mentioned a football book, Rob Gronkowski went to Williamsville High School. Everybody saw him on TV last night, I think. It’s a beautiful, wonderful area, there’s so many people in Buffalo that have moved away and they all want to come back, that’s because of the people. I didn’t have that desire. I didn’t have that opportunity either with my career growing and going international, I guess, and moving around as I did.

Yeah, I grew up with a mom that was a teacher and a dad that sold insurance and made ends meet as much as he could. And my mom always wanted us to have the best from an education perspective. I have a brother, older brother, and younger sister and she reached the goal of allowing that to happen, and I had a few people that I looked up to as I was growing up, and all I did was wanted to play sports.

I was a football player, a hockey player, any kind of sports, I just love sports. But I also, for some reason when I was in high school, had a connection with chemistry and I think maybe that’s because I had an uncle that was pretty close to me in age that was also a chemist. And he ended up having a very wonderful career at Ashland Chemical and I watched what he was doing, and I think I talked a little bit in the book introduction about that. Hey, he had a Corvette, he had a nice house and I wanted those things.

I wanted to be able to have that kind of a life and be able to make ends meet without a big problem, I guess. And back then, in the 70s, plastics were a big deal and chemistry was a big deal. So I had a push to that and then went to a university that I was able to play sports at Saint Laurence University in Kent, New York, and also was able to excel in chemistry, which those things usually don’t mix very well.

And it was like, chemistry, sports, music, three things that really don’t all jive together, and I was able to pull it off, somehow, with the support of a great family and friends. So went through college, got out in 1981 — if somebody can do the math — and started a career because I had to start paying student loans back right away and I wanted to make money.

I wanted to be on my own and it worked out great. I did some internships and then when I got out of school, I had actually a couple of choices of where I was going to go to work. I went into a laboratory setting for a company called Spencer Kellogg. It was a division of TextRun and I was very lucky because the head of the sales department, for some reason, took a liking to me and asked me if I wanted to become a technical marketing representative.

I remember saying, “What’s that?” It was actually the time in the world, I think, where people were smart in business and many of these technical companies or chemical companies where they thought, “Hey, we don’t need a sales guy to go out and just sell, we need a sales person to be a marketer but also a technologist.” So, you kind of put two or three people inside one.

So I was talking to customers, I wasn’t just talking to a purchasing agent. I was talking to their technology people, their tech service folks, their chemists, and that was the beginning of me trying to develop the career that I had, where I put all these pieces together. So, I was very fortunate we had that opportunity back in the early 80s. One thing led to another, another company here and went to work for Bayer or Mobay, it was called in the US back then.

Today, everybody knows them as Bayer, like Bayer Aspirin. I went into the area of coatings. To the layman, it was paint. But in our world, it was coatings. I mean, I was working on projects where between floor coatings, to bridge coatings, to stealth bomber coatings. You think of everything in the world, just about, today has a coating on it of some sort, and it was very strange.

Because when I went to interview for the job that I got at MonoSol, which is a division of Chris Craft, they were making film, rolls of plastic, dissolvable film. But I realized what they were doing is they were basically making a coating and putting it on a belt and then peeling it off and then rolling it up. It was very much like the coating industry training that I had had for the prior seven or eight years and I kind of fell in love with what I was seeing and I thought, “This is really cool.”

I do remember vividly the first day I went to their manufacturing facility, I made it through the interview, I made it through the talking to the business people and the sales manager, and they were trying to find someone to be a technical marketing head to try to take this tiny little business and do something with it. Well, when I went to the factory, I remember, I probably had a pinstripe blue polyester suit with a three-piece, with a white tie.

And I walked in this factory and it looked like I stepped back into the 50s. Everything was grey, steel case desks, linoleum floor. Looking around, there were secretaries typing away with carbon paper. I’ll never forget thinking, “Wow, I haven’t seen that in a long time.” And they had a little room that had a machine in it and it was a fax machine, they said. They thought, “wow” and I remember asking why there were no computers.

They said, “We don’t have computers, we used to have one in that room but it’s gone, it broke and we don’t use computers here.” And then I toured the factory and had engineer/plant superintendent person looking down at me. Some sales guy coming into this, just a punk kid sales guy but then, I asked a lot of questions about their filmmaking and their defects and I remember, his name was Art Ortega and I remember him, he was a short gentleman.

He looked up at me, he goes, “You know a whole bunch about this stuff, don’t you?” And I said, “Yeah, I do. I know how to formulate these things because I’ve had the experience to do that.” And I always had respect given from him because I wasn’t just a sales guy, if you will. So I went to work there. I remembered going to this factory from where we lived to thinking, “Wow, I’ve driven by this little building for eight or 10 years and I never knew what they did there.”

I remember calling my wife, I had a Ford Taurus but I had a bag phone, for those of you that remember what those bag phones were, and I called her from my car with this bag phone and said, “You know that spot we drove by all the time?” I said, “That’s where I am.” She couldn’t believe it and I ended up taking a job there, it was a chance. My wife was working, she’s also a chemist.

We didn’t have children and it was one of those, “I‘m going to take a flyer here because this looks really fun and I don’t know if I’ll ever get an opportunity like that.” So 30, 34 years later, here I sit, taking a, I guess, guiding is the best word or fostering a company that had a few million dollars of sales with mostly one customer that had nothing to do with the Tide Pods, actually. I know they’re destined to hit a billion in sales pretty soon, I just see it happening.

Tide Pods

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Well, there’s a lot in the middle of that because I am super-interested. And for those who are just tuning in and listening, I am really excited because this Tide Pod story is an interesting one, you go into this space. So, the Tide Pod thing is one sort of obviously innovation and growth and all those good things.

But then it’s like, the scaling of the company, the partnerships, there’s so many angles to come at this. Growth, intellectual properties, all the things that you mentioned throughout your book, they all come, of course with layers of hardships, but also layers of success and obviously, nothing comes easy.

You work your butt off to help grow the company, but where and when did the Tide Pod, let’s start there, really come to fruition? And then, how did you see that in its global state and what was—let’s start there. Let’s start with the Tide Pods because I think that’s a really powerful story for anyone that is—for me I always thought I wanted to be an inventor when I was a kid.

But I was an artist, and I was always tinkering with things, taking things apart, making them better, whatever. This idea of taking something really simple or what seems really simple is actually really complex. Let’s talk about that for a bit.

P. Scott Bening: Yeah, so I will start and then we’ll go backwards. So 2012, Tide Pods was launched in North America. In 1999, the first single-unit dose, soluble film sachet of detergent was launched in Europe. That was the beginning of testing this type of technology with the consumer and was actually done with a company called Unilever, you know them as Lever Brothers or Unilever now and another company called Robert McBride, who made store brand materials for companies like TESCO and Sainsbury’s and The Big Box or grocery stores over in England.

And before that, the whole decade building up to ‘99, the unit dose concept started to take off little by little in the institutional and industrial side of the business, and that was really the proving ground where we could say, “We’re going to make a packet and fill it with stuff, work with the right customer or the actual material producer.” But then we had to make it look good, and then it has to then withstand a consumer who doesn’t read instructions and won’t do what they’re supposed to be doing, and it has to be safe and it has to have shelf life.

And so it took about a decade to actually make that happen but I’m going to go back even farther and tell everyone that in 1962, the first unit dose laundry detergent was launched by Colgate Palmolive and it was called, Action Bleach and MonoSol actually worked with that company. I was three years old when that happened, by the way. They had an idea, they had some technology that was pretty crude back then.

Well, what happened with Colgate, because I got to know the people that were retired and old and we talked when I came to MonoSol about what their experiences were and why did it fail? And the answer is, it failed because the washing machines weren’t ready. The consumer wasn’t ready, it was one of these, like, “Wow, this is science spaceship stuff.” Way ahead of its time. And they only launched in on the small part of, I think the northeast part of the country.

They realized that they were going to have to put so much money behind advertising and somebody killed it at one point. Very, very suddenly too, I heard. That really hurt MonoSol even though they’re a small company, it killed their business to the point where one of the old general manager, his name was Omar Heart, had told me, he said, “It’s a good thing kid, that we had stocked money away for a rainy day or we would have all been out of work when that happened.”

So they had saved money as a small, independent company in case they had fell in bad times, which they thought that this was where they’re going to go, and it all fell apart. The company MonoSol tried to revive that a couple of times, actually with Proctor & Gamble and with Clorox in their early 80s but they never were able to put everything together technically to make it work, to where a brand like Proctor & Gamble or Unilever would put their flagship behind it.

So Tide Pods was actually a decade in developing. It took about 12 years to get Proctor & Gamble with us after launching the single-compartment material. They test marketed in England, in Germany, in France, and that was always going to be a decent business, but the big thing was going to be, will Tide go into unit dose? And P&G put gazillions of dollars behind this and the biggest thing they put behind this was they trusted us.

I talk a lot in the book about relationships and trust. Had we not developed this trusting relationship and battled through 10 years of co-development, I wouldn’t be writing this book. I wouldn’t be here and I think I state that in the book too. If it wasn’t for Tide Pod launching, I wouldn’t be writing a book because MonoSol would have been successful and it would have never been what it is today.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s so powerful because you talk about that. You talk a lot about forging lasting relationships in business because things do take time and opportunities may flex and unfold into so many different ways, but it’s that staying persistent. You have this innovation, this idea, this concept, and obviously it takes time for things to catch up because sometimes innovations are ahead of their time, and it is about timing.

Sometimes you don’t need to be first to something but maybe you can figure out a way to be maybe first in the market or first to appear in X, Y or Z segment, and I think that’s really powerful. Where would you say that, in working with these relationships, when did you leave like, “Okay, this product once it actually takes off and gets launched, it’s going to almost revolutionize and bring something completely new to the industry?”

When did that belief take hold and how did you use then the idea of building relationships to really build the business?

Building Relationships into Business

P. Scott Bening: It’s a loaded question, as you were asking it and building it, I keep thinking about again, about the transparency and the trust. There were some key individuals that were involved on the Procter & Gamble side but I have to say, prior to that to get the precursor for this done, was with Unilever and Robert McBride and one of my partners that helped me build our business in the relationships in Europe, Jean Pierre E. Grolier, known as JP, who passed away, and that story is in the book of what happened.

He died tragically in the middle of all this but it was because of those relationships and the fact that even in these large companies, there were individuals that were able to look beyond their typically B2B relationships and think entrepreneurially and think about innovation and figure out how to build that trust and transparency, which look, I was the little guy. I was trying desperately to build those relationships so that I could earn the right to go to that next step.

But the key was getting a few people to trust us, trust me I think to a large extent, that we were going to be able to deliver. I mean, if you think about it, a company like P&G has a flagship brand, billions of dollars in sales, and they’re going to risk all of that on little MonoSol that was 20 million dollars in turnover at the time maybe, and they sneezed in 20 million’s out the door and that meant everything to us.

I think that our heart and soul, and also the sound capability that we had technically and our chemistry impressed them to the point where we had been able to do something, and they felt that we were going to be able to do things that P&G wouldn’t be able to do on their own. So they needed us, they wanted us, the relationships were ever so important there to earn that right to go to that next step to the point where we developed the relationship where we were working as if we were one company.

It takes so much to get to that especially in the world today. Everybody is looking over their shoulder and to be able to build a trusting relationship that’s open like that, open innovation, is very difficult.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Very collaborative. And I feel like, when we think back to business in the 80s and 90s, I feel like I think about it in a way that was very competition-driven, very competitive. And not that business isn’t still competitive and competition-driven, but in a lot of ways, the ones that really succeeded, they figured out ways to collaborate and really work with each other, and I feel like there’s strength in both companies.

Whether one company buys the other out or however that ends up happening, which we’ll further talk about it in a little bit here, it’s really interesting though because that approach of collaboration leaves so much room for potential opportunity, growth, resources, empowerment, distribution, you know really, the list goes on. What would you say in that long run of really building up to the launch of Tide Pods, what would you say was your favorite part?

I know you talk about culture and what that employee workflow looks like. How were you able to go in and upgrade this 1950s little company into something really modern, and almost catching up with its time?

Modernizing a Company

P. Scott Bening: Another loaded question but that’s good. When you were talking about the progression and talking about competitiveness, when you look at industries today and this whole unit dose Pod business, there is an industry factor here too not just, there’s competition of course but all of the leaders in that business want the other companies in the same space with the same type of technology.

They all want theirs to be the best, but they create an ecosystem in the marketplace where if one was going to go off in a certain direction and be an outlier, you wouldn’t have that synergy supply chain capability, and watching that happen was very cool when we did this. Meaning, yeah, I was incredibly close to Proctor & Gamble but they were also very close to Unilever and Henkel and Reckitt Benckiser and Colgate, and all these companies were competing in the marketplace for the consumer to buy their stuff.

But we were able to customize what each of those companies needed technically, and to be able to do that and had so many people say, “How could you possibly sell to all of these folks and treat them all the same?” And by and large, we always tried to treat them the same to not be biased because someone bought 40,000 tons versus 5,000 or two tons, we try to treat everyone the same.

In the beginning stages of the book, I talk about the smaller people allowed us or the smaller companies allowed us to cut our teeth to learn how to do this, to build the relationships collaboratively, to earn the right to be able to work with these big guys. And if I step back and try to answer your, what was the coolest thing or the most fun part of that was to sit back and to figure out how did we navigate?

We were able to navigate in that whole space with people we were boxing, as it’s been said, we’ve boxed way over our weight class all the time. You’re a featherweight and you’re boxing Muhammad Ali in the ring and you’re moving around. So being able to do that was really, really fun and I don’t know if that was fun scaling up. I just said, what you said about turning this outdated plant into a modern, I remember the day that we turned the first new production line on and I’ve never built, it’s called a casting line.

I never built a casting line in my life and none of the people there, they were all, frankly, they were the people that built those lines were retired or dead. And so we had to figure out how to design and try to improve on what our predecessors had put together, the real founders if you will, and try to improve on it. And I mean, it just happens over and over and over to where 30, 40 production lines later, which are all over the world, the last one is the best and then you retrofit back and keep that.

It is a never-ending battle to try to make it more efficient, better quality, it is cheaper to run, all that kind of stuff. And I think that was a real joy to be standing there and watching very proud people literally turn a piece of equipment on. It is about as long as a football field, and you stand up the other end and you say, “Wow, this stuff works. It’s coming off and it looks great” and that was a real great feeling in this process.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, that’s always so amazing, right? Like making one Pod in a lab and all those kinds of things, and the components coming together for it to work successfully is one aspect, then taking it to production and scaling and scaling even more, that just sounds so profound. It’s got to be a problem when you bring what I like to call scrappy people, right?

They know what they’re doing but they’re also still trying to figure things out as they go. And I think there’s something about that. I think it creates a bond. I think it creates a company culture of people working towards, I wouldn’t say a goal but maybe an outcome. And the outcome is, have a healthy company altogether that every involved benefits from and thrives from.

I think it’s really cool, man. I really like enjoyed that part of the book where you talk about the organizational culture aspect of companies and then how you ended up scaling that. So walk us through the last phase of this. You grow this company and now Tide Pods are out in the world, you launched in America, what was that like, the explosion of, I guess you could say success? I’m sure it came with hardships but what was that like for your company?

P. Scott Bening: The funny part is in 2012 when Proctor & Gamble launched Tide Pods, that was the year I sold the business, my partners and I sold the company to Kuraray and when I think back of you know, people say, “Why did you sell then?” Well, it was a time in our life where we had already scaled the business well beyond the wild expectations of my financial partners, and we had an opportunity and I was looking forward thinking, “If this goes like we think it will go, this company is going to be five times bigger in five years,” and that’s exactly what happened.

What it took to do that was the strong support technically but also financially from Kuraray to want to invest to grow the business. Whereas I’m not sure how, I’m sure we would have found a way to do it. The banks at one point were clamoring to lend us money and we were lucky that the way we did it, we used a lot of our own money to build the business to that point, actually launching that product and then me telling Kuraray at one point, “Hey, this is really going to go somewhere.”

Well, it did and I was right. We were true to our projections. In fact, we exceeded all the projections that we told Kuraray, which is very rare for that to happen when people are selling a business, and that’s one of the reasons I stuck around because it took me a decade to get away from business and I am not completely away from it. I’m still advising them and I am on the board, but going through I felt like it was almost I can’t let go of this because there is another mountain to climb, another plateau to hit.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: It’s almost like your baby, right? You want to see it mature and grow and be this success that you’ve always wanted it to become, really powerful. So as your reader picks up the book and like for me, it was hard for me to put it down because again, you’re such a great storyteller and all these ups and downs and while you still embedded all these gems of wisdom in there for entrepreneurs, there’s a lot of innovation and I love that because in innovation, there is a lot of patience and failing.

The taste of patience at the very end is very—it’s like honey. It feels good, it tastes good and it’s all those things that you really worked hard towards. Now you’re able to pick the apples, if you will, and really run with that. But what would you want your readers, when they pick up the book and go through it, what do you hope they feel after putting it down?

P. Scott Bening: That it’s possible. And they might not all be entrepreneurs and have the luck that I did or the fortune to be able to be in the right place with the right mentors, but I am hoping that they can see that I am a person that never set out to do this. I didn’t say, “Someday I am going to own a business. Someday I’m going to be able to sell it and then continue” I never planned to do that. It evolved and happened.

But I do think that when they read the anecdotes and the accounts of what went on, that they will hopefully learn some things because there’s lots of takeaways there, try not to make this mistake or here’s the things that I could have done differently and more efficiently that would have changed the tides a little bit. I always said when I was writing this, this is the book that I wish someone had given me 30 years ago to read, so that I can learn from others.

But also, not have fear and also don’t get stuck. Don’t get stuck. And I hate to use the word “corporate job” if that’s not for you because I was feeling that early in my career, thinking I have to wear that polyester pinstriped suit and I have to show up to work and I have my shoes polished and my briefcase will look a certain way, and I really didn’t like or want to do that. And it took a lot for me to believe that I was allowed to do something different, that I was allowed to step out.

Then having done that, I hope they learn from me that it is possible to do that, and you can’t do it alone either. I think that’s the other big key takeaway and I didn’t do this alone. I mean, I had so many people that helped make this whole thing happen.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that man, it’s so powerful. Scott, it’s been just an honor sitting down with you today and get to know you a little bit, a little bit about your story and I’ve learned a lot. I mean, just listening to you it’s very inspiring, to see you go on this mission to just really unfold the mission without intention of, like you said, like, “Oh, I want to do this and I want to do that” and being really rigid.

It was more like an evolution of sort of what happened, which is really quite motivating. And the idea that it’s for you will never miss you, but you just trust that process. You lend yourself to that process and showing up to yourself and your work and your community in a way that didn’t feel like fitting in a box, which I love, because you created Tide Pods and the world that we know today, things that I get to use.

So, much appreciation from that respect and of course, congratulations on your book. I’m so grateful for your stories and your experiences today. The book is called, Formulating Solutions: Lessons from an Unexpected Entrepreneurial Journey. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you Scott?

P. Scott Bening: Well, on LinkedIn, you can use my name, it’s P. Scott Bening but also there’s a website called one word, formulatingsolutionsbook.com, all one word, Formulating Solutions Book. And you can, I think, read the first chapter for free and then connect with me if you would like to. And one thing I wanted to say that your comment and I keep reminding people, I didn’t do Tide Pods.

I was part of a team of global team people that made all the stuff happen not just MonoSol but even our customers, engineers, suppliers, service providers and I could never probably get it right in thanking all the people that had their hands in making something like that happen, because it is complex. It is very complex but it looks really simple to use, which was the whole goal so.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right. Well, usually the most simple things are probably the most complex things but in this case, it was certainly was and so shout out to you and all the people that were behind you, and your team and teams that brought this thing to life. First, the book is remarkable. It talks not only about the story but again, the gems along the way. Scott, it’s been an honor. Thank you for coming on the show today, I appreciate you.

P. Scott Bening: Hey, it was my pleasure, Hussein. Thanks so much for having me.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Absolutely.